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Authenticity, sustainability and AI – the key topics from this year’s NYC Ad Week

It may seem like it is always Advertising Week somewhere in the world, but the biggie really is the New York event, which delivers perhaps the most detailed snapshot of the state of the industry.

This year was no different, with delegates congregating in New York’s Penn District to listen to speakers, network with their peers, and generally pontificate about the future of their industry.

So, what were people talking about?

1. AI – fears for the future of content

Inevitably, the number one conversation topic was Artificial Intelligence and its implications for the industry. 

Writing in Forbes, Howard Homonioff captured the mood by saying, “there is certainly plenty of fear and loathing to go around when it comes to AI and its future impact on the media business. Much of it is focused on issues of intellectual property misappropriation, unauthorised use of digital doubles and threats to jobs in research, marketing, finance, tech and elsewhere.”

In fact, several other commentators spoke of executives looking over their shoulders wondering if machines would steal their jobs and lamenting that they hadn’t gone into real estate instead of advertising.

From the media’s perspective, the key worry is that internet users will stop seeking original content and exist on a diet of AI-generated roundups. If the users aren’t visiting content sites, fewer views are generated and advertising reach is lower.

Aruna Natarajan of EssenceMediacom was one of many who called for publishers to rethink what their publishing platforms uniquely provide.

“What is your purpose as a digital publisher? The ability to bypass those portals grows ever easier, and the ability to monetise them gets more challenging,” she argued.

Nevertheless, some industry pundits took a different view, highlighting how AI could help improve and rationalise advertising, generate greater insights and lead to improved targeting. 

Dan Gardner, executive chairman of Code and Theory, said: “AI is to creativity what calculators were to math. It’s only going to make us better at our jobs, and in turn, better at serving consumers.” 

2. Concerns about dwindling inventory

Another key worry for some delegates was the dwindling inventory available to advertisers. This isn’t just an effect of AI potentially taking consumers from content sites. It is also a concern borne out of the rise of ad-free subscription models prevalent in video content and making significant inroads into the media. Now, with experiments from Meta and Twitter, ad-free offerings are also being adopted by social media platforms.

The big headache, for now, is how TV will cope with fewer ad options. Long-time media industry analyst Brian Wieser projected that overall TV inventory will drop by 24% by 2027. This fall will be despite any advertising expansion from Netflix, Amazon and Disney+.

3. Privacy first – thinking about consumers

The post-cookie world has been discussed at Advertising Week for years, and following continual tweaks to the timing of the phasing out of third-party data in advertising, the industry seems ready to embrace a consumer-first approach.

Several commentators reported that the shift of emphasis in the ad world was complete, and brand and advertising companies were ready to put the consumer first.

Brian Morrissey, in his The Rebooting newsletter, emphasised this, arguing:

“ ‘It starts with the consumer’ will surely be a phrase that is uttered repeatedly this week, as most brands and ad tech executives look to talk up how respectful and transparent their ad tactics are, and how ready they are for a post-cookie world.”

4. Authenticity is paramount if you want consumers to take your ads and content seriously

For some pundits, authenticity was the keyword of the week. Several commentators insisted that the way to create truly authentic advertising content is to work with creators who already have respect and authority in a particular space – whether that be media companies, influencers or the new wave of content creators.

As Laurie Lam, chief brand officer at E.L.F. Beauty, said, “The order of importance when working with a creator: heart, purpose, brand, and then product.” 

Sure, brands need to use data and the latest AI tools to create campaign templates. Yet these will only have credibility with their target audiences if they are partnered with creators who already have established relationships with those audiences

By working with partners, especially in the media, brands can understand their target audiences’ passions and concerns. 

5. Sustainability must play a central role in campaigns

Many delegates at Advertising Week looked again at the industry’s sustainability problem. Digital advertising generates approximately 3.5% of global greenhouse gases every year, a figure that almost everyone in the sector deems to be way too high. Yet what can the industry do to address this?

Brands and the industry, in general, must contend with a pushback from consumers concerned about the environment. This trend has been a catalyst for brands tracking their carbon footprint in advertising. Also in the back of many US companies’ minds is the forthcoming Federal Trade Commission Green Guides, which will potentially get the industry onto a secure footing when it comes to sustainability.

For many, though, the ad industry is dogged by accusations of greenwashing or companies simply taking the carbon offsetting route. 

Until recently, no decisions about which platform to use for marketing have been made with sustainability at the top of the agenda. There were murmurs in Advertising Week that even if sustainability is not the first thing brands and the media think about when it comes to advertising, it features prominently on their radar.

With climate change very much at the top of the agenda for politicians and consumers, brands will have to rethink their practices.